Technology companies are always talking about the next generation of this or the next generation of that. We do it too, and in fact we just returned from LeadingAge where we happily showed our latest situational awareness solutions. But I’m disturbed by what I hear coming from the senior living industry and many of its vendors because it’s the exact opposite of senior “living.” From what I gather, many have adopted a “mortality strategy,” waiting for the current generation of seniors to die off so they can cater to what they view as the more tech savvy Boomers.
And I can’t tell you how angry I get when I see reports about Internet use among older adults “ramping up” to 53 percent, or that 48 percent of those 65 and older use email everyday. These numbers should be 100 percent – which means we shouldn’t rest or boast because millions of seniors are still disconnected. Our “Greatest Generation,” those who survived the Great Depression and went on to fight in or support World War II on the domestic front to ensure we enjoy the freedoms and conveniences of this modern day, has largely been forgotten when it comes to technology enablement.
People like Edythe Kirchmaier, Facebook’s oldest registered user at 105, are more of an exception than the norm. But thankfully Edythe’s children “turned her loose” when they gave her a computer at age 95. With more than 41,000 friends and appearances with Ellen and Oprah, we can be inspired by this amazing human being who worked in a Chicago welfare office during the Great Depression, has witnessed 19 U.S. presidencies, celebrated nearly 70 years of marriage, and regularly volunteers at a relief organization because she’s always believed in giving to the world, not just seeing what she can get out of it.
There are a lot of Edythes out there, and we want to make sure they stay connected to those they love and that they can share their legacies with the rest of us. That’s why we’ve partnered with LifeBio – to give residents of senior living communities with our CATIE solution the ability to video record their stories. Recalling and sharing life stories lowers depression, exercises the brain, and engages those with dementia. Life stories also create new conversations and bonds between families, staff and volunteers while leading to a higher sense of purpose and meaning for seniors.
The average age of residents in a continuing care setting may be in the early 80s, but these folks are feisty, hungry for knowledge and interaction. They chose to move into a retirement community to live not die, so it’s time to offer them more living options. The key to quality of life is communication and access to information to prevent isolation, depression and premature death.
So how can we deny electrons to the other 47 percent of seniors who need them? Are Edythe and I right to fear that apathy has consumed our society? From daycare to senior care, why aren’t we more concerned about the safety, security and quality of all life? What happened to doing the right thing because it will make a difference? I know, I ask a lot of questions; it’s what I do as a scientist and businessman. But I’m also a son of 80-something parents and a dad of two young adults and a teen. I sit in the middle of two completely different generations I don’t want to miss each other. There’s too much at stake for all of us if they do.